Muthuselan 18 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

As I’ve mentioned a time or two there were often a couple old soldiers hanging about at Duke Eaglevane’s court dispensing their “wisdom” about the nature of the world to anyone who would listen.  Once in a while anyone who would listen included me.  One of these timeworn campaigners told me that being at the battlefront is long periods of boredom punctured by short bursts of terror.  Even if you should know better when you’re waiting on the edge of a battle you kind of want it to get going – but then as soon as it does all you want is for it to be over.  That’s where I’ve been lately – first in the tower, then as a cat, then in the hidden basement at Stinty’s – just waiting and being annoyed and then wishing things were boring enough to annoy me.  At the risk of repeating myself I don’t like waiting while other people try to solve my problems.

Stinty was up and down all night “checking the perimeter” and for all the supposed stealth of Shirelings he woke me every time he made his rounds.  That didn’t stop him from rising before the dawn though – maybe Halflings need less sleep?  With a long day of nothing ahead of me I slept, sort of laid around more like, for several more hours before dragging myself up.  Even after spending two hours helping to gather wood – that’s how bored I was, manual labor seemed okay – we were still left with a lot of day ahead of us.  Stinty was whittling a chunk of wood into a rabbit or a fox or a shaggoth or something but I had no such entertainment as we sat at the camp doing a whole pile of nothing.

“What should we talk about?”

“I’m actually content to just pass the time in companionable silence.”

“Fat chance.  You said that you were involved with getting people out of bad situations in the past – was that a general thing or specifically for your people?  I know that in some of the bigger cities servants aren’t called slaves but that’s basically what they are.”

He glanced over his whittling at me “A little of that, but mostly it was dealing with actual slavery.”

I frowned “Is there that much illegal slavery going on?  I’ve encountered it here and there lately but that was out in the wild lands.  Is that what you’re talking about?  Ranger stuff?”

He took a moment to respond “No, slavery is legal in Ulpine.”

“I thought that was just propaganda.”

“No.”

He seemed like he was going to say something else but then stopped. 

“I thought you were from the Kingdom?  Are you an Ulpinite?  Or are you from the Eight Shires?”

“The thing you have to remember is that up until twenty years ago a large chunk of the western Kingdom was Ulpine – territorial conquest.  I was in that area for a good forty years, so you tell me what I am.”

“I know that some Halflings are politely asked to leave the Shires to run their scams on the big folk, but where are there so many Halflings in servitude, and apparently outright slavery?  There can’t be that many of your people that are asked to heed the call of the road.”  It didn’t seem like he was going to respond.  “You may as well answer, we’ve got nothing but time.”

“I wasn’t ignoring you, I was just thinking how to phrase this.  I don’t want it to sound cold-blooded, which I suppose maybe it is – although we would say pragmatic.  The Eight Shires are a green and fair land.  Which is somewhat in conflict with the Halfling desire to have large families.  There are only so many resources.  When I was a kid and the whole family would get together there were more than two hundred of us.  Halflings don’t live as long as dwarfs or elfs, but we live longer than humans, and unlike the older races but like humans we reproduce quickly.  The point is there ends up being a lot of us, relatively speaking.  We don’t want to restrain ourselves when it comes to having children, but we also don’t want the Shires to become like human lands – no offense – where there’s people everywhere all the time. 

Overcrowding leads to poverty and misery.  So some people have to leave.  And usually those families want to stay together so a lot of them all leave at once.  Unfortunately once we’re out here it’s hard to stay together.  There aren’t a lot of places were a couple hundred Halflings can just transplant themselves and start a new community.  We usually end up on the short end of the stick in human lands.  But the good thing about humans is that they don’t really give a shit who comes into their cities.  Elfs aren’t very welcoming and living underground with dwarfs isn’t really out idea of a good life.  So here we are.”

“So what, the government comes and kicks some people out every few years?”

“Nothing so dramatic, it just kind of . . . happens.  On its own.  When we start to feel crowded in someone pulls up stakes and heads somewhere else.”

“That seems impossible that it would just work out without the state strong-arming people.”

“That’s because you’re human.  It’s just how we are.  You are human right?”

“Probably.”

I was quite for a good while before speaking again.

“I don’t usually reveal much about myself to, well to anyone really, but I feel bad about you losing your place.  So I want you to know that I’m not completely a dick.  Helping me out isn’t a total loss on your part.”

“O. . . kay.”

“In my old life I was mostly an idle rich person, sort of, I was the plaything of an idle rich person so I was but I wasn’t one of them myself.  It’s a weird position, but that’s neither here nor there.  In addition to be a parasite on society I was also involved with a secret group that helped people like you did – they weren’t slaves by the law but they might as well have been – not all Shirefolk of course, but some.”

He paused in his whittling for a moment “You shouldn’t say something like that just to try and make me feel better.  I don’t mind most forms of dissembling much but that’s one thing that you don’t make claims about with me.”

“Total honesty here, I was operational with such a group, I guess it would be wrong to say that I was part of the group but I was helping them.  I’ve never told anyone that before.  Never.  But it’s the Gods honest truth.”

He looked at me sidelong “Did they have a name they called you?”

“Mockingbird sometimes.  Nightingale others.  Even Whippoorwill a time or two.”

“Do you know Tybor the Builder?”

I smiled slightly “There is no Tybor the builder, or actually maybe there is a guy named that somewhere, but that’s a codephrase they used.”

“What does it mean?”

“It changes.  I haven’t known what it meant for years.”

He looked at me for a long while and then chuckled and returned to whittling “Well I’ll be Gods damned.  What are the chances of that?  You don’t seem like the type.”

“That’s the point right?”

“I suppose it is.”

“I know that doesn’t make us best friends or old war buddies or anything, but I wanted you to know that you didn’t lose your livelihood for just anyone, I’ve done some things that I can be proud of.  Well not me, but someone can be proud of them.”

“Is that why someone is trying to very hard to murder you?”

“No.  I’ve done plenty of other horrible things as well, one of them is probably why there’s an assassin after me.”

“A friend of a friend of a friend told me about a Whippoorwill from the big city one time.  He said that she was a slippery one – not exactly someone on our side, someone who could help but someone that you had to be careful around while you were working.  Is that right?”

“It’s always a good idea to be careful, no matter who you’re working with.”

“Too true.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 454,301

Inventory:  Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, spidersilk cloak, Field Scrivener’s Desk

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis,  Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee,  Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage 

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